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On A Day Off

Denizens of the workaday office world and students at local schools often exalt over receiving days off — it’s a chance to relax and unwind.

But on this past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some organizations used the day off to work on some charitable endeavors. One of those organizations, Rebuilding Together Long Island, has made its presence felt locally in Massapequa; rebuilding houses, wheelchair ramps and many other projects that seem to slip through the cracks of government assistance.

Some of Rebuilding Together Long Island’s projects are meant to repair damage caused by Superstorm Sandy; however, some of the organization’s projects come about because a local resident simply needs help from good-hearted people.

Long-time Massapequa resident Anthony Ballato needed to install a wheelchair ramp at his mother’s house in Massapequa. After getting a few estimates from contractors, he realized he could not afford the astronomically high prices. He needed assistance — and that is exactly what he got.

“I heard an ad on the radio for some company that installs these things. They came to the house and get me a price quote; it was ridiculously high,” said Ballato. “The guy told me there are grants available for these types of things.”

Thus began Ballato’s two-year odyssey to get a ramp installed at his mother’s residence. During that time Hurricane Sandy rolled through Long Island, causing damage at Ballato’s own house in south Massapequa. Ballato inquired with the Town of Oyster Bay about receiving a grant to get the ramp installed, but a Town official told Ballato he would not hear back for at least a year.

Luckily, the official also told him about Rebuild Together Long Island.

“They [Rebuild Together Long Island] got back to me right away,” he said. “In a short time they were at the house working. All very nice fellows. Most of them were older retirees, volunteering their time for free. It was very, very nice of them.”

Ballato, a Massapequa-based attorney, was so grateful for their work that he handed out his business cards and told them to contact him should they ever need legal representation.

“I told them that I’m a person that returns favors,” he said. “I haven’t heard back from any of them yet, but the offer stands.”

The volunteers completed the project at Ballato’s mother’s house this past November and since then, the organization has taken on many rebuilding projects across the island; including a similar ramp-installation job in East Meadow. That project was completed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in the civil rights leader’s vision of building a “beloved community.”

And the rebuilding projects are not limited to Long Island; Rebuilding Together boasts 200 affiliates helping to complete 10,000 rebuilding projects a years thanks to the efforts of nearly 200,000 volunteers. The Long Island chapter of Rebuilding Together started in 1992 when two retirees working for Habitat for Humanity realized the need for an organization specializing in home repairs for Long Islanders.

Joe Botkin, senior vice-president of Rebuilding Together Long Island and a former New York City school principal from Williston Park, said the organization works year-round, seven days a week; but on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the work always takes on special meaning.

“It’s important to show support for what King did and to help the people he was always most concerned with,” said Botkin. “But no matter what day we’re working on, the very best experience we have is the day we complete a ramp and our wheelchair-bound client can finally wheel out of their house. It’s a moment that leaves us all in tears.”

For Ballato, the greatest byproduct of Rebuilding Together’s work is the newfound piece of mind.

“It’s like having a fire extinguisher; you don’t want to have to use it, but you better have one if you need it,” he said. “Now, my mother can get out of the house easily if there is an emergency. I’m very grateful for that.”